Tips for Using Augmented Reality in Retail: Look How Far We’ve Come

By Sanjay Khunger, Senior VP, Technology
Published Thursday, Aug 11, 2016

Tips for Using Augmented Reality in Retail: Look How Far We’ve Come

Augmented reality (AR), which overlays virtual content on real world, received a much needed boost last month with the surprise popularity of Pokémon GO. Though new for many, AR is decades old technology that never seemed to make the journey from the tech street to main street. Some may remember the heads-up display, an early version of AR, available on airplanes as early as 1948 and introduced in cars by General Motors in 1988.

Certainly a lot has changed as technology has advanced. Smartphones with blazing processors and a myriad of sensors, 4G wireless connectivity and cloud computing and storage have all enabled an experience unheard of even a decade ago. And there’s a lot more change to come in the next five to ten years. The AR of the future will likely guide professionals through intricate procedures like surgeries and installations by superimposing virtual images and instructions through a handheld or wearable “looking glass.”

The first AR smartphone app was available as early as 2007. Today, there are hundreds of AR apps on the Apple App Store and Google Play providing travel, mapping, astronomy, shopping, gaming and just about every possible overlay of digital content on camera image. From a retail perspective, one of the first retail-focused smartphone apps was released in 2013. It recognized products on a retail store shelf, looked up each product and presented basic product information on the screen of the smartphone with the option to get more detailed information. Sounds awfully useful but the app was nowhere near as popular as Pokémon GO.

So, what makes a mobile AR app compelling? What makes one stand out from the hundreds of other mobile apps?

When developing an AR app, solution or product for retail use, always look at it from the user’s perspective and keep the following tips in mind:

  • Make it simple and intuitive to use. Simplicity continues to be the first and foremost prerequisite of a successful solution. If it presents a large learning curve, either the design needs adjustment or the technology is not ready. Think, when was the last time you used a technical manual after downloading a smartphone app?
  • Provide value. Consumers are all looking for value, be it saving money or saving precious time. Retail solutions can provide user value by improving one or more steps along the path to purchase. And, AR has the opportunity to amplify this benefit through an immersive experience.
  • Make it relevant. For a solution to be successful, it must be part of the daily fabric of a user’s life, what I call “daily relevance.” It should, preferably, be so well-integrated into other solutions that it easily becomes a habit.

The above tips are prerequisites for the success of consumer facing solutions. For mobile AR apps to create an even more immersive experience, there is an additional critical prerequisite:

  • Make it context-aware. A solution with context awareness takes into consideration device location, environment, day, time, temperature, user preference, previous user experiences (such as previous product purchases and selections) as well as adjacent information (such as price comparisons, recipes and nutrition facts). Context can be used to anticipate needs and proactively personalize the user experience.

The possibilities for AR are undoubtedly endless. Now is the time for retailers to seize the moment and utilize AR for the amazing technology it can be in transforming the shopping experience to provide superior value to the consumer.